What does it feel like now? Like being human. Only more so. And when the sun’s just right, I catch a glimmer of what’s underneath.

How does it feel, physically, to become awakened?

I want to say that I make no claim to have gotten ‘awakened like the Buddha’. I have had an awakening experience with some lasting effect; however, if there is a permanent state of enlightenment, I have not yet experienced that.

So for me – my awakening experience felt just like waking up, but lighter – you know, the difference between waking up after a bad night of sleep and waking up feeling like you can leap out of bed. And every sense was super-heightened. Sometimes, when you’re focusing intently on one thing with one sense – studying a painting in a museum for example, or listening to a moving piece of music – the other senses seem to recede. This was the opposite. I could feel not just the sunlight on my skin but the differences in warmth at each nerve ending. I could feel the pressure of my bed and every wrinkle in the sheet, and pinpoint areas that were scratchier than others. I could pick out individual bird songs, and distinguish the sounds of the waves hitting the shore nearby. I could identify who was coming down the hall outside my room by the sound of their footsteps and knew what they were feeling by the sound of their breath. I could smell hibiscus and asphalt. I knew someone was waking and sitting up in the next room and wondering what to say to the doctor about their dream. And it was all at once, and I noted it.

It felt like waking up because I was actually waking up for the day. The sensory ‘power’ settled back to ‘normal’ within minutes, and I think that’s a good thing. I do still notice things many people tend to miss, and to catch odd nuances, but consciously processing that much input for my whole life seems like it would have been overwhelming.

The remarkable part of this experience isn’t what I just described.

The night before I’d been hospitalized under suicide watch after having gradually lost everything I’d been using for years to define myself – external things like my work, my home, my girlfriend, stability – and then internal things like trust in my intuition, faith in my path, hope, my desire to live. My clothes were taken from me so that I couldn’t use them against myself, and I was in a hospital gown. My books, locked in an office. My freedom – taken for 72 hours for observation. It was deeper than that: a total breakdown of my mental image of ‘Me’, and by the time I fell asleep, I had curled myself into a little ball and cried for hours battered by an internal tempest that was tearing everything I ever thought of myself apart. I dreamt of drowning, of being blown apart atom by atom, of each of my cells individually catching fire. And then I dreamt of dreaming, and I watched myself toss and turn and then went inside myself and watched the destruction. I remember wondering – if this is me dreaming of being dissolved, who is dreaming this dream? And the dream heard me, and turned its face to this unnamed dreamer whose eyes ‘I’ was borrowing – a wolf with great tremendous jaws from a childhood dream of mine – and in its mouth, behind its teeth, not darkness, but emptiness – it wasn’t dark or light, it took up no space and all space – and it swallowed me whole.

I know time passed in the nothing, that the end of the dream and the beginning of void occurred several hours before I woke up, because in that moment right before I woke I felt old – centuries old – and smiled at this silly thought I’d wake up with grey hair and wrinkles, a long white, unkempt beard and a cane to help me walk.

But when I woke up, none of the previous night, none of the worries, none of the things I used to fear, none of the weight I carried for years – remained.

By law, they kept me there for 2 more days, but the weight never returned. I spent the time reading, talking to the other ‘inmates in the asylum’, trying to explain my ‘recovery’ to therapists in language that was safe for them to understand, and rediscovering the me who’d been hiding behind all that accumulated junk.

It’s been over 10 years since then. And over time, some of my old patterns re-established themselves, new patterns arose, but they weren’t stuck so tightly, and most fell away again, and rinse and repeat. I think of maintaining my experience as repeatedly wiping away the mud that flies up when a car goes by on a dirt road on a rainy day and dries on hard and persistent in the sun. If enough mud piles on a mirror to obscure it completely, then all we see is mud – no more mirror. But it is still there. So I just keep an eye out for it and scrape it away when I find it.

What does it feel like now? Like being human. Only more so. And when the sun’s just right, I catch a glimmer of what’s underneath.

Before, the base of my experience was fear. When I had an idle moment, my mind turned to worry and regret. Now, save for a few small times in the past when I forgot to keep that mud cleared away and forgot ‘myself’, my idle mind is peaceful and the base of my experience is joy. I don’t know any other way to describe it than that, but for me, that is the confirmation of what happened a decade ago.

Having said that – awakening and enlightenment have taken on such loaded meanings – I definitely recommend reading teachers’ descriptions of enlightenment, the Four Stages of Enlightenment, as well as the Lam Rim from the Tibetan Vajrayana traditions if you’re feeling ambitious – but ultimately, a practice helps set the stage to recognize these experiences when they happen. Don’t be impatient. I dove right into the most basic tantric practices and tore my life apart, and I thought I knew what I was doing… But in reality I took myself right to the edge of a knife. If one tiny atom in the universe had been different, it might have been my physical body bled out on a floor rather than that constructed image of myself I used to think of as ‘Me’.

Be in no hurry, and trust that you’ll know when you have an experience of awakening, however fleeting or long-lasting. And know that awakening that is proud of itself is not awakening, and awakening that compares itself (I am awakened, you are not) is also not awakening.

But you already know this. :)

Originally posted on Quora – What does it feel physically when one gets awaken like Buddha did?

Mila (Jacob Stetser)

Mila is a writer, photographer, poet & technologist.

He shares here his thoughts on Buddhism, living compassionately, social media, building community,
& anything else that interests him.

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